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The f-Stops Here

A series of columns on outdoor photography

Why Not Shoot Yourself?
by Sharon Watson

Sharon Watson If you have a devoted outdoor photographer in your family, you've probably noticed your album are full of great Idaho memories, but very few of the photographer himself or herself. If you ARE that photographer, it gets annoying never to see yourself in action. The problem can be remedied somewhat with a few self-portrait techniques.

When I finally get that trophy bull elk I've been hunting for, do you think my hunting partner will be around to take the picture? Probably not! The only way I'll have a photo of the event is to take it myself. I won't have toted a tripod, so hopefully I'll have an alternative: a nearby stump, rock, or pile of dirt on which to set my self-timed camera. A stuffed duffle bag, shoulder bag, fanny pack, or small backpack might also be used for this purpose. If like us you carry large plastic bags for hauling out meat, try filling one with leaves or forest duff to build up a platform. Another option is a C-clamp/camera mount combination for attaching cameras to tree limbs.

It's near-certain I'll cut my head out of the picture if I'm not careful, so a stick placed at the right height will let me check for head room. It will also give me something to prefocus on, assuming I can quickly place my grinning face in about the same spot. A precaution: Because your eye is not behind the viewfinder, excess light coming through the now-open viewfinder can confuse the camera's automatic light metering. For self portraits, it's best to cover the viewfinder or manually set the correct exposure in advance.

Self-portraits come in two styles. One is taking a picture of yourself taking a picture of yourself. The other, with the use of a tripod, looks like someone else took the picture. Within these two viewpoints is plenty of room for creativity.

With camera on a tripod off to one side, try shooting a reflected image of yourself, free, for once, of the camera itself - in the side of a shiny pickup, say, or in a mirror hung on a tree in deer camp. Incidentally, an advantage to super-stable tripod shooting is you can use smaller f-stops and slower speeds, allowing a greater depth-of-field safety margin.

When shooting yourself without benefit of tripod, try for your camera-wielding reflection in the eye of an animal, in your buddy's sunglasses, or in a still mountain lake. An offbeat variation on a bright day is to capture your sharply-focused shadow holding bird or fish.

In Idaho's outback night, the "Bulb" setting on some cameras can be used to get yourself in the picture. This setting locks the lens open, but with slow film, small f-stops, and little light, the picture forms very slowly or not at all. A hand-held flash used manually on yourself will fill the frame nicely! Move around in the picture and flash yourself several times for a creative multiple-image shot. Then go close the shutter.

Most of the time outdoor photographers are properly and happily lost in gathering visual images from "out there" in Idaho's beautiful mountains and deserts. For a refreshing change, turn the lens on yourself now and then and give yourself the present of a nicely posed and executed self-portrait.

Other Resources:

Shooting the Hunt

Kids in the Outdoors


Natural Light By Jim Zuckerman

The Art of Outdoor Photography By Boyd Norton

Mountain Light By Galen Rowell

L. L. Bean Outdoor Photography Handbook By Jim Rowinski, Kate Rowinski

Nature's Tranquility: Reflections and Insight By Tom Klein, editor

How to Photograph the Outdoors in Black and White By George Schaub